Mobile

Groupon founder Andrew Mason is working on coolest walking-tour app of all time

The headline may (or may not) be overplaying it a little. But Detour, the app that Groupon founder and former CEO Andrew Mason has been working on, is cool.

It’s a location-aware audio walking tour experience, but the content of the tours themselves is what’s special, not the technology.

Mason and Detour co-founder Yishai Lerner have cooked up an initial set of five San Francisco walking tours. But these aren’t meant for tourists who are new to the city. They will not take you to Coit Tower or that really curvy street … whatever it’s called.

One of the tours takes you to the city’s grungy Tenderloin where you can visit a hidden art salon, find old books about San Francisco history, and then stop off at a cool espresso joint for a caffeine jolt. That tour is narrated by John Perry Barlow, the American poet and essayist and retired Wyoming cattle rancher.

The narrative wanders. You’ll hear talk about how tech is watering down San Francisco culture and a gentle rant about NSA spying, for example.

One of the tours is narrated by SF’s beloved beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Another is narrated by a real Fisherman’s Wharf fisherman.

On the tech side, Detour uses both GPS and iBeacons to orient itself on a map. It uses Bluetooth to make sure the audio is synced up between the devices of people experiencing tours in a group. You can start and stop the tours when you want.
Right now the new tours are being created each month, mainly by journalists, radio producers, tour guides, and artists. In 2015, Mason and Yishai want to give users the ability to create and share their own tours.

I just have two questions. Is there a tour of the old opium dens in Chinatown? Perhaps narrated by the ghost of William Burroughs? I’d totally hit that.

And does the app weave in music from local artists whose music has been inspired by the city, or even by specific places on the tours? It should.

There are plenty of walking tour apps in the app stores. The National Geographic Cities app offers looks into the nooks and crannies of Rome, Paris, New York and London, for instance. Racontours offers some guided looks at New York City’s more hidden side. But Detour is the only tour app we know of that features celebrity guest guides and an unapologetically quirky approach.

The Detour app is launching as an invite-only beta today.


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2 comments
dave moreau
dave moreau

Georeader is a historical tour of the world app. Anyone can contribute points to share what they know. Hands free operation for safe travel. Reads  points automatically  to you  when you approach them in your car but also can be used for walking tours. www.mygeoreader.com . 

Selena Klein
Selena Klein

312Go is similar to this app for Chicago (www.312go.com)